It is rare in American public life that a former enlisted man gets anywhere near true power. Al Gore was one of the few exceptions, until the Supreme Court headed him off in 2000.
Too bad, because the thing about having served as an enlisted man is that for the rest of your life your first thought on seeing a general will not be along the lines of Gee whiz, what a fine figure of a man. No doubt he is brave, clean, reverent, thrifty and obedient on top of being, obviously, a military genius as well.
If you’re like this former private your first thought will be, That asshole used to be a lieutenant, and I know lieutenants.
Former private Chuck Hagel was a decorated and twice-wounded squad leader in Vietnam. But the wounds and the decorations aren’t why I hope he gets to be Secretary of Defense in spite of Bibi Netanyahu and the outraged flutters from our domestic chicken hawks.
It’s because of something another squad leader said to me when I was a reporter. We were at a First Air Cavalry fire base in Tay Ninh province, and I had mentioned to this sergeant that I was thinking of leaving his outfit to hook up with Bravo Company.
“What are you, crazy?” the sergeant said. “Don’t you know their old man won the Medal of Honor?”
I didn’t, but what did that have to do with it?
“Why do you think they give a company commander the Medal of Honor?” the squad leader said. “For killing grunts like us.”